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A ‘culture of experimentation’ may sound abstract – but its returns are very tangible. 

In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, we’re talking about fostering a culture “that encourages people to try things, test things, and fail.” Cliches aside, tech giants like Facebook and Amazon have proven the power of this philosophy. The most successful, innovative companies of our age are rooted in a set of tacit beliefs that emphasize the need to be curious, to play with what’s possible, and ultimately make decisions that are driven by data – not guesswork. 

Experimentation Culture uses the scientific method rather than subjective opinion to guide changes. Done well, it can democratize idea generation and encourage innovation thought throughout organizational layers.

 

The genesis point of an idea suddenly becomes less important than whether or not the data supports whether the idea can work. This cultural mindset empowers employees to do their best, to take initiative, and to think creatively. Managers, now freed from the burden of being the primary source of potential innovations, are able to focus on strategy, leadership, and everything else on their massive to-do list.

Why Experimentation?

The rationale behind this approach is clear: it drives superior business outcomes.  Companies like Amazon have refined their customer experience meticulously through continuous experimentation. Radical changes are rare, instead they implement only those changes that have a demonstrable impact on business performance. Over time, this strategy builds on incremental improvements to create dominant performance in the marketplace. 

Revolutions are risky, but evolution always works. 

Building Blocks of an Experimentation Culture

Leadership 

As a leader, you have to make it clear that you’re serious about what you want to see. The early days at Facebook saw Mark Zuckerberg personally coding the initial experimentation software, while Netflix’s Reed Hastings personally taught the basics of experimentation to his new team members. While helpful, broad executive buy-in isn’t always necessary from the outset. An executive sponsor with the authority to green-light a few preliminary tests can demonstrate the potential of experimentation. Andy Johns was famous for doing this in the early days of Twitter, doubling the new user signup rate. When executives saw the effect on what they previously believed was an optimal signup flow, they gave Andy significant additional resources to accelerate experimentation.

If you make your expectations clear, and then reward those that meet those expectations by experimenting, the rest of your employees will begin to fully internalize the fact that experimentation is the new cultural norm. 

Experimentation Mindset 

Building an experimentation culture requires a team that’s both curious enough to question the status quo, and comfortable enough with the notion of failure to not let it intimidate them. Generally speaking, curiosity isn’t the problem for most teams but reshaping what failure means certainly can be. Doing this takes time and effort, but redefining failure from something to be avoided, into something that’s necessary to finding what truly works is a critical step. Simply celebrating – even rewarding – your team’s failures can go a long way. Getting this right means cultivating an environment where creativity and innovation are prioritized, and where learning from each test becomes the foundation for future strategies. 

Infrastructure and Tools 

You can do everything else right, but if you don’t give your team the right tools then you’ll never get the ideal return on your cultural shift. There are many testing platforms on the market that, with some cooperation from your engineering team, can be installed quickly. Even those with a modest amount of technical knowledge can conduct simple experiments like headline changes. For large companies, a center of excellence model can become a hub of centralized experimentation that gathers ideas from various departments and executes the experiments. This provides all the rigor and accountability, with little to no added responsibilities and training for your non-COE team members. 

Alternatively, agencies like Cro Metrics can build Testing Centers of Excellence or act as your full-service experimentation team. Cro Metrics has extensive experience in helping clients establish such cultures, with many eventually running these programs in-house.

Overcoming Challenges

The main challenges to building a culture of experimentation are – not surprisingly – cultural. We always caution our clients that you can buy tools, but you can’t buy a new shared perspective for your team. The return that you’re looking for won’t be achieved without support from executive sponsors and enthusiastic program leaders. Technical challenges are always surmountable, and test idea generation is relatively straightforward— humans are generally resistant to change. We tend to prefer the familiarity of established practices over the uncertainty that comes with new approaches. Starting small and celebrating loudly can help build trust and gradually shift organizational mindsets towards more significant changes. 

So what does experimentation success look like? 

Success in experimentation isn’t just about efficiency gains; it’s about learning from each test. Testing button colors might give you a small efficiency gain but it doesn’t tell you much about what your customer wants.  Discovering what truly matters to customers—be it simplifying pricing, more help in their decision to purchase, clarifying shipping policies, or enhancing product information—can lead to high-impact improvements that provide real improvements to the customer experience.

As many leading tech companies have demonstrated, building and embracing a culture of experimentation can significantly impact overall business success that propels the company forward.

If you are interested in implementing experimentation into your business but are struggling or have questions, reach out!